Is It Safe to Plant Tomatoes Now?

Question: Is it safe to plant my tomatoes and other vegetables now?

 Answer: The average last frost date for Vancouver is April 17. We had frost in many areas on that morning.

 Although we are unlikely to have frost that will kill tomato plants now, that is not the main reason why many people wait until later to plant tomatoes and other heat loving vegetables and flowers. The temperature (especially at night) is just not warm enough to suit tomatoes. In some cases, tomatoes planted now will grow very slowly and become stunted. Healthy, rapid growing plants started a month later will often pass them right by.

Here are three techniques for getting a healthy start on your tomato plants:

 1.Buy small tomato plants in 3 to 4 inch pots now. Place them outside in direct sun (not under an overhang or in the carport) during the daytime. Bring them inside at night. The combination of warm nights and cool days causes plants to grow more stocky.  Don’t worry if you forget to bring them in occasionally.

 As plants outgrow their pots, move them to a six inch diameter or gallon size pot. Remove 2 to 4 leaves from the lower part of the stem and place the plant in the bottom of the pot before you add soil. Cover the lower half of the stem with soil, Additional roots will grow on the buried stem giving additional strength to the plant. Every time you transplant tomato plants, bury half the stem under the soil (after removing leaves). Tomatoes are unique. Don’t try this technique with other plants (especially woody plants). You will probably kill them.

Plant outside in mid to late May.

 2. Plant large plants outside now in an area where you can create a warmer micro climate using one or more of the following techniques:

A. Plant on the south side of a fence or wall where plants will get the sun’s reflected heat.

 B. Place a 3 to 4 foot square of red plastic on prepared soil, cut an X hole in the center and transplant the tomato plant through the hole. Make a dip where the plant is so water will run to the hole.

C. Use electrical conduit or flexible plastic pipe to make hoops and cover with clear plastic. Be ready to provide ventilation as weather warms. (Floating row covers work without support – see Click on tools and then row covers)

 3. Wait until late May and buy plants in gallon size or larger containers

 It is not only perfectly safe but is in fact preferable to plant peas and all the root, leaf, and flower bud vegetables now. They like our cool spring weather.


Allen Wilson

Allen has been writing about gardening for over 30 years. He is a retired professor of Horticulture.

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